My first experiments in photography were self portraiture; it simply seemed a natural place to start and it was something my art teacher encouraged for my final year art project. I never delved too deeply into my own psyche to figure out why I wanted to feature in my own photos. At that point, It was all about learning how to use an (analog) camera; to shoot in black and white film, and develop the film and print in the darkroom. I am so glad I had the opportunity to explore manual photography, the darkroom really suited me and I miss it. Photography was something I could just do, no struggle to learn, no pressure, and I never questioned where I was going with it. My overly analytical nature only developed later…
Back to the point of this post. Cindy Sherman’s art instantly appealed to me. I think I first discovered her when I was Uni, definitely loved her Untitled Film Stills body of work. I equally loved Tracy Moffat and more recently Claude Cahun who I can’t believe I’d never heard of before! But Cindy Sherman’s obsession with transformative identity (on a superficial level) is what really grabbed me. I relate to what she is doing, and I draw inspiration from her as an artist and in particular, as a female artist.
The show today at Gagosian strongly reflected the path I have taken/am taking /hope to take. She photographs herself in amazing fancy dress costume (which I can only assume are as exciting in assembling as they are wearing them) then ‘etches’ the image of herself into photographic landscapes that have been manipulated with a painterly effect – some times she seemed to be part of the painting other times standing in front of a painting. Her chosen character for each backdrop having no coherent relationship. Or perhaps there was:
>> recondite female figures stand against vast and inhospitable natural landscapes. Elaborately costumed, they appear at odds with the backdrops of desolate plains, barren trees, and otherworldly wintry terrains. The dynamic between each woman and her alien setting varies; some hint at specific narratives, while in others she appears to have landed quite by chance. In Untitled (#551), she wears a heavily beaded full-length gold and cobalt dress, accented with a high, regal collar. Her spare silk turban and bare face contrast with the sumptuousness of her attire. Her clear blue, ever-watchful regard and her hands lightly clasped in an expectant gesture beckon the viewer to cross into the mossy riverbed at her back. In Untitled (#547), a phantasmal sorceress hovers at the edge of a stormy seascape. Clad in a long black gown and dramatically embellished bolero, she stares vacantly, her sagging, age-worn face framed by long, flowing silver locks. In Untitled (#552), she wears a severe black frock, white gloves and matching ruffled lace collar. With her sharp russet bob and deep scowl, she looks like a disapproving governess or scolding maid from a bygone era. In each image, the female figure looms larger than the surrounding natural world, in a reversal of the Romantic hierarchy.
Sherman has continually created new series of works focussing on difficult themes quite often grotesque, using her own image with never a worry about how ugly she may appear or how distressing the effect is on the viewer.